Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yartsa Guen Buep

How many of you know of an oddity called the Yartsa Guen Buep? I give you a hint: it is found at altitudes over 14,000 ft. above sea level; some think it is a caterpillar, while others think it is a mushroom. In truth, it is a bizarre cross between the two. Some consider it an elixir for longevity; while others swear that it can cure venereal warts and restore sexual potency. Whatever the truth, one thing is for sure - this crinkly yellowish amalgam has got to be the most expensive ingredient in the Traditional Chinese Medicine. It can cost upwards of Nu.400,000.00 per kilo in the international retail market.

The Western world knows them as Cordyceps synensis. It is a unique combination of a caterpillar larva of the Himalayan Bat Moth and ascomycetes fungi. Half of it - the caterpillar part - is embedded into the ground while the fungi sprouts out of it and is exposed above ground.As the fungi mature, the caterpillars underground become a mummified host to the grass/mushroom that sprout out of it. In essence, a fully grown fungi and a completely dead caterpillar is what comes to be known as the famous Yartsa Guen Buep. This means that, there is no such thing as a live Cordyceps.

On rare occasions one does see live Yartsa Guen Buep. They are basically caterpillars that have not been infected by the fungi. Perhaps they may qualify as half a Cordyceps since they do not have the grass or mushroom growing out of their heads. They wiggle and squirm like any live worm or caterpillar, unlike the Cordyceps which is completely lifeless.

The annual collection of Yartsa Guen Buep is emerging as a serious threat to the natural environment of our alpine regions. In addition to threatening the life style and livelihood of the traditional yak herders, it is causing a rift in the traditional bonds and relationships that existed between the highlanders and the people in the warmer southern regions. Age old customs and traditions and working relationships are being overridden and severed - yielding way to strange new attitudes and conduct. In their quest for a handful of the bizarre worm, human life and health is being put into jeopardy.

This is how a Cordyceps is seen to the bare eyes. The Cordyceps collectors must have keen and sharp eyes to notice them. The hunters of these worms spend months crouching on their four - in extreme weather conditions - looking for these camouflaged caterpillars sprouting mushrooms that look like grass.

This is how the worms are seen on the ground:

This is how the Cordyceps looks when plucked from the ground:


This is how a rarey seen "live" Cordyceps looks like:

This is how the worms look like when then are dired and ready for supply:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nimalung Tsechu

All the following images were shot at the beautiful Nimalung Lhakhang in Bumthang, Central Bhutan. By mistake, I ended up at the Tsechu on the day of the Cham-ju (19th June, 2010) which was as well since I got to photograph the dancers without their masks.
Having had this first time experience (photographing the Cham without the masks), I realize that it does not work for me. Instead of focusing on the movement of the dancers and the dance itself, I end up trying to capture the various facial expressions of the dancers. In the process I miss out on some great shots.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hitting The High Note

When can a man claim to have truly achieved greatness? When he is featured as a comic character!
In the following comic strip from a comic book produced and published by ICom America, yours truly is giving history lessons to couple of kids. ICom America is a world leader in the manufacture of radio and communications equipment. I am a certified ham radio operator with the unique national CallSign: A51AA (pronounced: Alpha Five One Alpha Alpha).

ICom makes world’s best radio transceivers and obviously they feature the best characters in their comic booksJ. Jokes aside, I hosted an amateur radio expedition comprising of nine American operators. One among them was the General Manager of ICom America who presented me a high end ICom transceiver. That was 10 years back.

Good old K B Wakhley has it all worked out for himself. He told me over a cup of coffee and tuna sandwich yesterday at Karma’s Coffee that he is gearing up towards keeping himself employed after his retirement. Now there is a funny one - to be employed after being retired? Weird idea, but come to think of it, the man has understood how difficult it is to do just NOTHING! When a man has worked all his life, how do you go about doing nothing? That has got to be a real tough job. I am already beginning to feel dreadful about the prospect of doing nothing. May be I need some little indoctrination from Mr. K B Wakhley J. Or, may be, I will just do my epochal trilogy on how I started the country’s first Ham Radio Centre, how I nearly broke my back trying to keep my fellow amateurs around the world happy by giving them a “contact” - known in the HAM jargon as a "QSO" - at all odd hours and, why, I finally gave up Ham radio altogether.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Journey Into The Mountains Of Dhur

Recently I was in the mountains of Dhur, Bumthang in Central Bhutan on an assignment to photograph people collecting Cordyceps. The place is extremely cold and rugged and I was camped at an altitude of 16,200 ft. where the collection of the Cordyceps take place.

The place is stunning and the mountains are simply breathtaking. We were snowed in for 3 days upon arrival but the view thereafter was simply out of this world.

I am posting some photos so that you can see for yourselves how beautiful the place is.